I pretty much want to be like this guy when I grow up.
Though he died with 18 other hotshot firefighters, Deceased Arizona firefighter Andrew Ashcraft unknowingly left something very tender and meaningful behind for his wife and family to cherish — a cheap rubber bracelet — but it’s priceless to his widow, Juliann, and I am sure it will be priceless to their four boys, one of them named “Choice”, after the nickname their father acquired when he chose actively to avoid certain behaviors when touring with a rock band in his younger years.
“There weren’t a lot of things that came back intact,” she said. “The damage was pretty catastrophic. Everything was charred and melted — his pocket knife, his compass. They couldn’t even find his watch.”
But there was among Andrew’s personal effects a rubber wristband — formerly white, now yellowed and singed, but still wonderfully recognizable to Juliann.
“About six months ago Andrew was in charge of our family home evening,” she said, referring to a common practice among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to gather weekly as a family to strengthen faith and family bonds through scripture study, games, treats and prayer. “His lesson was aimed at our children (ages 6 and younger) about how we all need to be good so we can be together as a family forever. As part of the lesson he got us all these white rubber wristbands. He said they would remind us to be good, so we called them our ‘Be Good bracelets.’
“The kids and I wore ours for a few days, but then we took them off and only wore them once in a while,” she continued. “But Andrew promised me that he would wear his until it fell off his wrist — because it was so worn out — or until the day he died. To him, it was a symbol of his commitment to me and to our family and that it was forever. So he wore it all the time, and he told me he looked at it a lot. It reminded him of us, and it made him want to be a better man.”
Juliann said she had no expectation that Andrew’s “Be Good bracelet” would survive the fire. “It was just a cheap thing,” she said, “and it was made of rubber — not exactly fire resistant.”
But when she saw it among Andrew’s effects — one of only a handful of items to make it through the blaze intact — she said she was overwhelmed by what she called a “tender mercy.” #
At a time in her life when everything is surely in a state of upheaval (you can donate to help her family, if you choose), this appears to be a very tender mercy, indeed, perhaps referencing the common expression of faith in Christianity and especially in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the Lord prompts us through His Spirit to recognize physical witnesses of His divine love and care for us through small, simple things that the world may overlook, but to us–His children–are very meaningful.
Elder David A. Bednar, an Apostle and member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ said the following about tender mercies in a recent address to the world and to the Church (April 2005):
When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance (see 1 Ne. 1:20). [Tender Mercies, General Conference, April 2005]
This bracelet, and the fact that it wasn’t utterly destroyed while everything else was, seems to be a witness of that faith. Part of me imagines that Andrew Ashcraft, in his final moments on earth, prayed that God would protect and care for his soon-to-be widow and his sons. He was sealed to them in the Temple, which gives faith and hope that his family would be with him eternally, but surely, this caring father wanted, somehow, for his wife and children to know that he was good and to know that he loved them.
“He was a good man,” Juliann said simply, powerfully. “A lot of us claim to be the things that we are only aspiring to be. We go through the motions, but it’s not really inside us. Andrew was just good. He wasn’t perfect — no one is. But he didn’t pretend to be good; he was good.” (# emphasis added)
Video: Mormon Messages — The Tender Mercies of the Lord 3:49